My wife says that I’ll be deaf in just a couple more years. I’m not really deaf, I just have the spiritual gift of selective hearing. If the children are getting a bit loud in the house, I have the ability to turn the TV up a notch or two and ignore the ever increasing background noise. If the children are calling “Mama” over and over, I have the ability not to respond. After all, they’re not calling me. Right? I have trained my ear over the last 19 years to detect the level of difficulty of the favor she needs by the tone in which she uses when she calls my name. The greater the difficulty, the more hard of hearing I become.
This week we’ll explore how people come to hear the gospel – which is the first step. Before people can understand and respond to the gospel, they must first hear it.
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” Rom. 10.14.
The essential question we must answer is: How difficult is it for someone to hear God calling them to salvation? Are we hard of hearing? Do we just use our selective hearing? Or are we completely deaf?
A God Who Speaks
It is important to understand at the outset that God seeks to reveal himself to his creation. He wants to be known.
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” Rom. 1.19.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” Heb. 1.1.
“Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say.” Isa. 28.23.
How Well Do We Hear? (Mark 4.1-20)
4 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed.4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”
9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that,
“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
(A quote from Isaiah 6.9, 10, where God is describing the deliberate deafness on Israel.)
13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
4 Types of Hearts/Listeners:*
- Mark 4.15 – The unresponsive heart
- Mark 4.16,17 – The impulsive heart
- Mark 4. 18,19 – The preoccupied heart
- Mark 4.20 – The responsive heart
10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Rom. 3.10-12.
QUES: Considering Mark 4 and Rom. 3, how well do we generally listen?
22 Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” – John 10.22-30
The general invitation to men to come to Him, which some reject.
Luke 14. 16-24
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. – John 7.37
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. – Rev. 3.20.
The general consensus regarding this doctrine is that God speaks through a General call and seeks to draw people to Him, without affecting their freedom of will. Thus, the person freely chooses to respond or reject the gospel call.
Some refer to this as “cooperative grace”. – “God offers to sinners and that they may accept or reject, depending on the sinner’s disposition.” R.C. Sproul. What Is Reformed Theology? p. 184.
Pelagianism – no grace necessary for salvation.
Semi-pelagianism – grace is not only helpful, but necessary.
“Those whom he predestined he also called…” Rom. 8.30.
“No powerless, merely human calling is in view. This calling is rather a kind of “summons” from the King of the universe and it has such power that it brings about the response that it asks for in people’s hearts. It is an act of God that guarantees a response…” Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. p. 692.
“This is the call that only the elect respond to through faith and which results in their salvation.” Charles Ryrie. Basic Theology. p. 325.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”[c]
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. – 1 Cor. 1.18-25
Problems with cooperative grace:
If grace is necessary but not effectual, what makes it work? (The positive response of the sinner, who is still in the flesh) Why does one sinner respond positively and another negatively? Is the difference in the power of the human will or some added measure of grace? Does grace assist or does the sinner cooperate in the flesh alone? If the flesh can respond to grace by itself, why is grace necessary?
*Hendriksen, William. New Testament Commentary: Mark. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996. p. 155.